Thursday, September 28, 2006

Impressions of Afghanistan

Event Title: Impressions of Afghanistan
Sponsor(s): Center for Strategic and International Studies
Location: CSIS
Date: September 25, 2006
Time: 12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Approximate number of Attendees: 60
Intern Attending: Kristin Broyhill

Featured Speaker: Seema Patel - Lead Project Consultant for the Measure of Progress Afghanistan Post-Conflict Reconstruction International Security Program

Ms. Patel recently returned from Afghanistan after conducting qualitative interviews around the country with persons in academia, NGOs, private industry, Afghan, US and international government, international organizations and civil society. Her findings revealed that, after five years of international presence, Afghani optimism has fallen, the funds and projects supported by international actors do not meet the expectations or needs of the people, and that development needs to be more balanced throughout the country and among the different sectors of society.

Ms. Patel found that the Afghani people have become disillusioned with their new government, having little faith that the government will meet their needs as a society. Corruption and nepotism have increased within the new government and many members, previously dismissed due to corruption charges, have now been reinstated with a new title under Karzai.

The Justice system is the main culprit of government distrust, operating on bribes and failing to bring government officials involved in corruption, drugs, or other illegal activities to trial. Even Karzai’s anti-corruption department has not taken on a case. The justice system must also adapt traditional views to consider modern trends in crime (human trafficking and war crimes) and a changing demographic (IDPs and female-headed households).

Afghans need jobs, access to short term loans, physical and business infrastructures and land titles so businesses can be built. In the absence of these services, Afghans are instead turning to the Taliban because of the organization’s ability to meet public needs where the government cannot. Between meeting needs and easing restrictions, the Taliban’s public support and numbers have increased.

Ms. Patel noted that there have been gains in social needs such as education and medical access. However, many of these gains have been in infrastructure alone— Afghanistan does not have the money to train or pay professionals to work in the clinics or schools that have been built.

Afghans know of the billions of aid entering across their borders, but they do not see what progress is being made because promotion and communication about public reconstruction projects is both insufficient and often culturally inappropriate. Organizations must converse with all portions of society, not just the government sector, if their programs are to meet genuine public needs. Finally, the priorities of reconstruction must be rethought. International donors need to work in places where they have access and public support. Additionally, donors should work to strengthen their impact, visibility, and support, while stretching their funds to reach further. Currently, the major focus of reconstruction is in stabilizing the South, while people in the North, East and West are becoming increasingly impatient. From their perspective, by putting so much money in the South, the international actors are rewarding the South’s anti-government policies and actions.

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